Nepal is a world leader in the production of modern handmade carpets. The global luxury markets for interior design holds the country’s hand-knotted carpets in high esteem. Since more than fifty years Kathmandu has been known as a creative hub and innovation laboratory for high-end contemporary woven artisanry.
Concentrating all production steps in Kathmandu has been part of Nepal’s success story and an instrumental element in the development of today’s highly customizable handmade carpet industry. But the production environment in the capital has become increasingly challenging. The city’s booming real estate market puts pressure on the production locations and labour shortage has probably become the number one problem for most manufacturers. Decentralizing parts of the production might be a way to take away some of the pressure from the industry. With the manufacturer’s treasure trove of knowledge and experience and the help of modern communication technology, it should be possible to manage manufacturing process over a certain distance.
Label STEP, the initiative for fair trade in handmade carpets, has been working in Nepal for more than twenty years, promoting good working and living conditions for weavers and workers and a sustainable future for carpet industry. Supported by the UKaid Skills for Employment program and in close collaboration with a few pioneer carpet exporters and international buyers, STEP aims at recreating the success model of Nepali carpets by setting up Artisanal Villages in rural areas of Province 2.
Sarlahi and Siraha district have traditionally been important places of origin of Nepal’s weaving community. Establishing – in a first phase – around eight weaving workshops in this area will ensure the availability of highly motivated, skilled weavers. The workshops will be designed and organized to comply with Label STEP’s fair trade standards. All weavers will benefit from STEP’s empowerment program which is aimed at increasing weavers’ capacity through education and training. The pioneer program in the carpet industry has benefited more than 6,000 people in Kathmandu since 2016, its most recent component on financial literacy has led to about 1,200 weavers now being on their way to greater financial security through increased awareness and new bank accounts, saving groups and saving plans.
The Sarlahi and Siraha artisan villages will meet the production needs of the carpet industry and at the same time improve livelihoods in marginalized communities, primarily benefiting women. It has a strong gender equality and social inclusion component. 100 of the 500 jobs created in the first year pilot phase will be reserved for people with disabilities. A strong focus will also be on providing business and financial literacy training and facilitating access to finance to catalyse local women-led weaving start-ups. Cooperation with international designers and technical experts will make sure that the weavings created in Sarlahi and Siraha will meet the highest quality standards for which Nepali handmade carpets are known and distinguished.
This project will not only provide decent, attractive jobs with fair trade standard working conditions for up to 4,500 job seekers in economically lesser developed regions of the country by 2022. It will also provide a very welcome influx of fresh air and energy to the industry, supporting its long term sustainability.